How Negative Reps Work

How Negative Reps Work

When you first start weight lifting and your muscles are untrained, it’s easy to get stronger. You make strength and hypertrophy gains using standard training techniques that emphasize progressive overload. However, after you’ve lifted for a while, the gains don’t come as quickly. This isn’t surprising since your muscles adapt to the stress you place on them. In response to training, they became stronger and larger and now don’t feel the same degree of stress as when you first started. That’s when it’s time to challenge your muscles in a different way.

How do you do that? You have a number of options – change the load you place on the muscle, alter the training volume or training frequency, increase the time under tension, alter the rest period between sets, or change the exercises you do. One method called negative reps or negative training modifies the time your muscles spend under tension during one particular part of a contraction – the eccentric phase.

What are Negative Reps?

A rep has two components: a concentric, or positive, component, and an eccentric, or negative, component. The concentric component is the part of a movement where the muscle contracts. When doing biceps curls, it’s the portion where you raise your hands towards your shoulders. In contrast, the eccentric component is the phase where the muscle lengthens. For curls, that’s when you lower the weight back to the starting position.

Negative training places more emphasis on the eccentric, or lengthening component of the exercise. You do this by increasing the time the muscle lengthens. For example, you might devote one second to the concentric portion of the movement and 3 to 6 seconds to the eccentric. You can emphasize the negative in this way on almost any exercise, including body-weight exercises like push-ups.

Benefits of Negative Reps

Other than exposing your muscles to a new type of stress to bust a plateau, why would you want to do negative reps? Research shows negative or eccentric training creates more muscle damage than standard training. In turn, this leads to more delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS, but potentially greater gains in strength and size as well.

You’re also stronger during the eccentric phase of a movement. You can handle between 30 to 50% more weight when you’re lengthening the muscle as opposed to contracting it. If you have someone spot you, you can test this out for yourself.

Another Reason to Embrace Eccentric Training

If you’re trying to lose body fat, eccentric training gives you an edge. Emphasizing the eccentric by doing negative reps gives your metabolism a subtle boost that lasts even after you finish a training session. The so-called after-burn you get from eccentric training, based on research, lasts for up to 48 hours after a workout. This means you burn more calories after your workout is over. Why might this be? Remember, negative reps create more muscle damage that needs to be repaired afterward. So, your body has to expend more energy during the recovery and repair process.

Along with creating more microtrauma to the muscles, you’re working, eccentric training leads to greater neural adaptations that enhance strength. In response to negative reps, your nervous system recruits a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, the kind optimized for strength and power. It also turns on metabolic pathways, like the mTOR pathway, to a greater degree than concentric training. That means more muscle growth.

Adding Negative to Your Fitness Routine

Because negative reps create more microtrauma and damage to the muscles you’re working, moderation is key. For this reason, use it in moderation. Doing a full eccentric workout isn’t the best approach since the training is so demanding. With such an approach, you’ll need to give yourself several days of rest afterward – and count on being sore afterward!

A better way to benefit from negative reps is to do them on the last set of an exercise, so you aren’t completing exhausting your muscles. When doing negatives, it’s helpful to have a partner who can serve as a spotter so you can use a heavier weight. You’ll get the most from eccentric training if you work with more weight than you can comfortably lift. A spotter can help you safely do this.

Since your muscles will fatigue quickly when you add a negative “finisher” set, you probably won’t be able to do it for your entire workout. Try it on a few sets near the beginning of your workout while your muscles are still “fresh.” Larger muscle groups, like your hamstrings or quads, can usually handle more negatives than a smaller muscle group like your biceps or triceps.

The Bottom Line

Eccentric training and negative reps are one method you can use to train your way out of a plateau. It’s a way to vary the stimulus you place on your muscles and, hopefully, be rewarded with greater gains in strength. Just be sure to use this method judiciously due to the added demands it places on your muscles. Negative reps are another way to diversify your training and help you better results.



Poloquin Group. “Ten Things You Must Know about Eccentric Training to Get Better Results”

Stephen Kelly, et. al., “Comparison of Concentric and Eccentric Bench Press Repetitions to Failure,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2014, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000713.

Bubbico, Aaron; Kravitz, Len; Ph (2010). “Eccentric Training”. Idea Fitness Journal 7: 10.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7):1202-7.

Eccentric Exercise: A Comprehensive Review of a Distinctive Training Method. Aaron Bubbico, B.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.


Related Articles By Cathe:

How Negative Reps Help You Gain Muscle Strength & Size

Strength Training: What Is an Eccentric Contraction?

Is Eccentric Exercise a Metabolism Booster?

Resistance Training: Getting Lagging Body Parts to Respond


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